The Spoils of Poynton

by Henry James

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

The Spoils of Poynton is a dramatic story by Henry James about the conflict between members of the Gereth family and the way this conflict ends up spilling over into other peoples' lives—because of the characters' manipulative personalities and their desire to do everything they can to secure the family's inheritance for themselves. The story begins with Mrs. Adeleh Gereth, a widow, sitting down with several members of the Vetch family, a well-bred, if rather boring, family. She selects one of the young women in her mind as her agent of a special mission.

Mrs. Gereth's son, Owen, is the sole heir to their vast fortune, which includes their large collection of tapestries and artwork. However, Owen is engaged to Mona Brigstock, an unacceptable match in Adeleh's eyes. The Brigstock's are tacky, according to Adeleh, and they are not as dignified as the Gereths. She also believes that Mona is too beautiful (and is consequently rude and uncaring) and therefore would be unsuitable to hold the family fortune. She cares little for her son's happiness; she merely does not wish their valuables to end up in the hands of a "coarse woman."

She engages Miss Vetch to go to speak with her son to convince him to either forego his inheritance or end the engagement. It is revealed that Adeleh has moved all of their valuables to her small country home, where she now resides alone. Fleda Vetch agrees to help her, and begins meeting with Owen to address the situation.

However, over time, Owen reveals that Mona has forsaken him—that she is tired of the whole situation, and has become jealous of Fleda. This was Adeleh's plan all along: to have Owen fall in love with the more modest, well-tempered, and well-bred Fleda. He proposes marriage, which she spurns, but Adeleh is convinced of the end of Owen's relationship with Mona and returns all the valuables to Poynton, their main estate.

Suddenly, however, Owen writes to them and informs them that he has claimed his inheritance and fled to Europe to marry Mona. His infatuation with Fleda was a ruse that was as cunning and as manipulative as his mother's. He tells Fleda that she is free to go and claim any piece of the inheritance as her own for her "assistance" in the con. When Fleda and Adeleh travel to Poynton to try to prevent the couple from taking the valuables, they arrive to find it burned to a crisp.

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